Tour d’Angleterre

Given that I rarely attend live sporting events, it’s somewhat unlikely that I would be present at two internationally renowned fixtures within a week of each other – but, such are the joys of living in London in July 2014!

You know about my Wimbledon obsession, but despite several visits to London over the years, I’ve never bothered to go and watch le Tour en route through the capital. (In fact, on one of these occasions, I instead babysat a restless 6 year old who would not have enjoyed the spectating process at all.) Given that I had little better to do last Monday afternoon than stand by the side of a road and watch bikes – plus, a new Matryoshka Haus intern was very keen on spectating – I figured this year was a good year to start.

Unless you’ve been living under a stone (or outside the UK) you’ll be aware that the country went Tour mad last week. Especially in Yorkshire. Choosing to hold the Grand Depart in that particular county was a stroke of genius, Yorkshire – and anyone who could get there over the weekend – rejoiced in all things cycling for 48 hours. This included my father, who not only has a passion for cycling (as I noted during a recent visit of his to London, where our urban perambulations were frequented with pauses to examine bikes locked up along the road) but also has parents who own a mobile home on Ilkley Moor. For the first time in the history of this holiday property, it had a real use as it provided Dad with easy access to key points along the route.

TDF Yorkshire

Dad likes to keep the family updated while he’s away and his emails to us are always amusing – the weekend of le Tour was no disappointment and whetted my appetite for what would await me on Monday. Here are some extracts:

A Sad Finish:
“We were all cheering Mark Cavendish till he crashed. Looks like he’ll be out of the tour. 
Off to look for fish and chips soon.
The day has been so sunny I had to get a new sun hat.” [This was the entire email. I love the way Dad’s mind works.]

Le Tour Day Two:
“The tour seems to be the biggest thing to hit Yorkshire since the wars of the Roses.
This morning walked through a series of lanes and footpaths to Silsden. Little knots of pilgrims were converging along the lanes with their yellow T shirts and folding chairs. It was a bit reminiscent of the closing scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

I stood on the upper high st where people had simply taken their dining chairs out of the house onto the pavement. Still thousands on the streets. Silsden has obviously never seen the like and everywhere – homes and businesses – was decorated. Personally, I thought the yellow wreath hanging on the door of the funeral director was a bit tasteless!

I listened to Radio Leeds to find out how near the race was and heard a wonderful interview with a spectator: ‘I’ve been in t’ Champs Elysee for the end of the Tour, but it were nowt compared wi t’ Keighley bypass today’. Yorkshire pride doesn’t get prouder than that! Afterwards I had soup at the Methodist Church where they were doing a roaring trade in light lunches. Paused to admire their knitted bike and watch a bit of the race on their screen.”

TDF Yorkshire 2

Surely it would be just as exciting in London? London, the most successful Olympic host city in the history of the games? Well, perhaps if I’d gone to one of the Spectator Hubs. But even if I’d done that, I think I’d still have been a little disappointed. Yes, there was a great atmosphere – despite the torrential rain that arrived just as it was clear that the cyclists weren’t going to arrive on schedule – but we were definitely lacking in yellow decorations!

Cameron and I waited for nearly two hours just below Monument. We had a pretty good view and were right on the roadside, and it did give Cameron time to share his knowledge of the tour, cycling and other professional tours – ensuring that I wasn’t quite the cycling imbecile I might have been. 3G signal was minimal, preventing any attempts at keeping track of where the peloton was. Instead, we had to rely upon the positioning of stewards, the sound of helicopters approaching and the noise of clapping further up the route.

A damp view Our excellent, but damp, view. 

In typically brilliant timing, my phone spontaneously ran out of battery (despite being on 35%, grrrr – entirely the fault of my external battery charging cable giving up its ghost that same afternoon). As a result, I only have the above photo and this one. This is not a competitor in le Tour, it’s some joker who pedalled down the route 15 minutes before the professionals. He caused a lot of excitement.

Fake cyclist

Fortunately, Cameron made the most of the 30 seconds it took the riders to pass us:

Le Tour en LondresSee, so close!

In honesty, it was a bit of an anti-climax! Especially when photos of friends’ experiences in Cambridge began appearing on Facebook – they’d managed to photograph more than one cyclist. One friend, who had been singing in front of a college to celebrate the tour (how very Cambridge!) had a marvellous view of the pack as they set off – largely thanks to an enforced speed limit at the start. Those of us towards the end of the course caught them in their final sprint. Quite the contrast.

Still, please Tour de France, don’t hesitate to return to our shores very soon!

Bicycles

The above photo is not really an example of my most brilliant work, given as it fails to accurately portray its subject and context. What you are looking at is an exercise bike (Alice is demonstrating how it is used) in the middle of a pub’s ladies’ toilets. Yes, in the toilets. See the sinks? The hand-dryer? The doorway into the cubicle? Terribly random. 
[Should you be female and wish to try out this bizarre arrangement, the pub in question is The Boot in King’s Cross.] 
This leads me nicely onto two totally separate bike related anecdotes…
(i) Reading on exercise bikes.
This is one of the more random 2010 Firsts on the right – last month I read whilst cycling at the gym for the first time. I’ve often watched people read on the bikes – usually it’s magazines or newspapers – and I’ve wondered whether they can really be working hard enough, seeing as they look rather relaxed. 
But arriving at the gym near the end of a particularly gripping novel, I decided to give it a go. It was amazing – I didn’t watch the time or the intensity levels, just pedalled on regardless. In fact, I went longer because after half an hour I still hadn’t quite finished the book. Note: reading is really not a good idea on a treadmill… 
(ii) A sudden desire to cycle in London.
I’m not a good cyclist. In fact, I am so bad that I failed my Cycling Proficiency test – I don’t know anyone else who failed it. (Though I did get full marks for the theory…) A rather bad accident aged 12 knocked my confidence and, while I’m very happy doing familiar routes back in Gloucester, preferably on my friend’s gorgeous ‘sit up and beg’ Dutch bike, I’m something of a liability. 
Last week I joined a new choir (there will be much blog fodder derived from this activity, I’m sure of it). It’s local, but as is the way with London, getting there involves either a half-hour walk or a bus. Leaving choir after my first rehearsal, a woman ahead of me jumped on her bike and cycled off towards The Roundabout of Death (as it’s become known in my driving lessons). Suddenly I thought that perhaps my bike would be better off here than in a Belfast basement, if solely for these weekly excursions, and wondered about finding a way of getting it over the Irish Sea.
Lest you be worried for my safety, one conversation with my mother put paid to that idea. Anyone else hearing the words “I’d be worried about you cycling in London” would assume maternal fear of the city’s traffic and roads. No, she was voicing her concern at my cycling capabilities and rightly so. [I’ve recently been  told that she misinterprets some of my comments about her on here, so I need to be careful to say the right thing.] 
Fear not Londoners (or those that love me and would hate for me to end up under a bus) I will hold-off on the cycling desires for now… 

"Challenges"

One of the newsletters regularly produced at work ocassionally provides wonderful pieces of information (it was the source of the using Star Wars to get people into church story a while back).

Yesterday’s issue contained a story about a 14 year old boy who had recently cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats, in aid of the British Heart Foundation and in memory of his grandfather who had died earlier in the year. Well done to him and I’m very impressed with his achievement.

However, what amused me is that the article goes on to say:

“But the gruelling ride was not without its challenges. Luke suffered a whopping 13 punctures, broke his gears and lost four bottles of shower gel on the way!”

Four bottles of shower gel? That is challenging.